Planetary Resources, based in Redmond, Washington, announced in early November that it received a $27.7 million round of funding from the country of Luxembourg to help the company accomplish its goal to launch its asteroid prospecting system into space by 2020. Chris Lewicki, CEO of Planetary Resources and former director at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory responsible for landing the last four rovers on Mars, said his company is not some far-out fantasy.
"It sounds like science fiction and the initial reaction is disbelief," said Lewicki, at the Web Summit in Lisbon last week. "But people realize after going through the details that not only is what Planetary Resources is working towards is possible, it's inevitable."
In July 2015, the company launched its first spacecraft, the Arkyd 3 satellite from the International Space Station to start testing the sensor technology during a 90-day mission. Later this year or early 2017, Planetary Resources will launch the Arkyd 6 satellite into space on a SpaceX rocket from California, or a PSLV rocket from India, to test the newest iteration of its technology. These satellites, which are about the size of a cereal box and packed with infrared and hyper-spectral sensors, will help Planetary Resources characterize asteroids and identify which ones have adequate amounts of ice and precious metals so the company can mine the resources.
Before asteroid mining, the company wants to build Ceres, a constellation of satellites that will float around the circumference of the Earth to work as an advanced observation platform using its sensor technology to gather data on Earth's natural resources, such as water, oil, and food, and sell the data to the government, agricultural companies, traders, and oil and gas companies. Once the technology develops further, the spacecraft will start asteroid prospecting to identify the most resource-rich near-earth asteroids. Lewicki said the company's ultimate goal is to mine asteroids for water to help lower the cost of space exploration.
"Where we are starting is very simple and very valuable to everyone--water," said Lewicki. "You might not think water is that exciting thing to mine, but we need it for astronauts in space. We'd like to not have to ship 100 tons of water every time we go to space at a cost of $50 million each time."
Lewicki said that Planetary Resources wants to help foster a space economy by dramatically lowering the cost of going to space by providing necessary resources like water to astronauts. By combining the low-cost computers and sensors from smartphones with cutting edge satellite and avionics, the company believes it can help usher in a future of full-scale economies in space.
"We have all of these resources in space we could be sourcing locally while up there," said Lewicki. "This is what Planetary Resources is all about; we can use all of these resources to help build infrastructure, create economies, help grow businesses, and build families and settlements that we have been doing all of our history on Earth but in space. It's something that technology and our solar system has recently made possible."
Listen to an Inc. Uncensored podcast episode about the asteroid-mining industry.